Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Desperate For God... Africa, part 3

First, Naomi, you left me a comment on my last post and I so want to talk to you, but I don't know how to get in touch with you...  Somehow I missed your blog going private, so if you read this, can you e-mail me from my profile so I can have your e-mail address and get an invitation to your blog...  I miss following along!

So back to Africa...  The Sunday morning before I left for Africa, a sweet prayer warrior friend came to me at church and asked if she could pray with me... This friend has the most tender heart and she has been such a HUGE encouragement to me through our adoption and my trips to Africa.  She is so faithful to pray for us and always listens to all of the details of my stories, I don't think she knows what a gift that is...

So on this Sunday morning, she sat and prayed with me and she prayed for boldness...  I know she prayed for other things, but it was that word, 'boldness', that echoed in my heart throughout the trip...

On the plane over, I was reading one of the best books I've read in a long time, Radical...  Taking Back Your Faith From The American Culture, by David Platt (I HIGHLY recommend this book).  One of the thoughts that grabbed my heart was how in our culture, we are so self-sufficient, that we aren't really desperate for God.  So I prayed, "Lord, while I'm in Africa, make me desperate for You."  (Be careful what you pray for!)

The first day we arrived in Swaziland, we were roaming around waiting for our orientation meeting to begin and one of the leaders from Heart For Africa came to me and said, "I hope this is just a reminder, but you know you're a team leader right?"  I had absolutely no idea...  I was completely unprepared and being in such a different culture where so many things can offend, I was terrified...  But God reminded me of my friend's sweet prayer and I knew that He had gone before me!  And clearly God was answering my own prayer to 'make me desperate!'

But He wasn't done yet...  On our last day in the community, the Pastor sat down with me to discuss how our afternoon worship and celebration would go and he said, "I would like for you to bring the word to us."  Surely there was someone else in the room that he was talking too...  What could I possibly have to say to people who live such different lives...  How could I possibly talk about a passage that I hadn't spent hours studying for (not to mention that I didn't know what verse I was supposed to speak about)?  Desperate for God was going to a whole new place...  And once again, my friend's sweet prayer echoed in my heart...  Be bold!

And God was faithful...  As I prayed, God clearly led me to a verse.  So then I tried to think through what I might say, but my thoughts were overwhelmed and confused, I couldn't think straight for anything.  So I prayed, "Fine... I'm not going to think this through, You're just going to have to make the words come out of my mouth."  And He did!  When I finished, I basically had no idea of what I had said!

But there was still one more lesson left to come about being desperate...  On our last day of service, we went to a hospital to distribute blankets and beanies to the school children in the community and to pray with the families in the children's ward of the hospital. 

It was my first trip to a hospital in a 3rd world country...  It was shocking...  heartbreaking... beyond description...  But it was here that I really understood the phrase, "desperate for God."

As we went into the ward, we took blankets to each family and offered to pray with them...  Even though most probably didn't understand our words, they all understood our touch and the act of praying.  It was a sweet but sad time...

As we finished our rounds of the children's ward, we headed back out into the main ward and were taken aback when we heard a man yelling...  As we drew closer and closer, I became more and more afraid that somehow one of the local witchdoctors had come in and that something terrible was happening...  So I prayed, "Lord, if this is a bad thing, please make it stop."  But then we begin to hear the word 'Jesu' 'Jesu' 'Jesu'...  And then we knew, this man was calling on the name of Jesus...

As we entered back into the main ward, we found this man and another, praying over a child who was probably near death...  The child had a feeding tube and his breathing was so shallow...  And these two men called out to God in a way that I have NEVER heard before...  They called on Him for life...for healing...they prayed with a faith that is far beyond where I pray...  These men were truly DESPERATE for God and my needs all of a sudden seemed so small...  I really have no idea what it means to be desperate for God...

And perhaps that's the blessing of a third world country...  Maybe that's why, when I'm there, I feel closer to Him than ever...  Maybe that's why it's so hard for me to leave and why I'm so ready to return...  God's presence is almost tangible there and I have to wonder if it's because the people there are so desperate for Him. 

I've thought about praying that God would make me truly desperate for Him, but I admit, I'm afraid to pray that prayer...  Maybe I don't want that enough for my life...  Maybe I'm afraid He'll really answer it...  Maybe I'm afraid of what that answer would like...  But for now, my prayer is that He will fill me with a longing for Him that is far greater than my desire for comfort and ease in this lifetime...  Maybe then I'll be ready for whatever it takes to make me truly desperate for God.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

God's Perfect Provision... We're Asking The Wrong Question! Africa, Part 2

As I've thought about how to tell the story of this trip to Africa, it seemed that this trip was as much about lessons for places deep in my soul as it was about the events that happened.  In Luke 2:19, when Jesus is born and the shepherds visit Him, they go out and tell everyone that they have seen the promised Christ child...  But it says that "Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart."

I think that's why it's been hard for me to begin to tell this story...  This trip was a treasure to me and I just needed to ponder it for a while.  So I've decided to tell this story by the lessons I learned...  Through it, I will tell you about the events, but the real treasure is in what God taught me!

So this trip was what you might call, my dream trip.  Since the first trip to Africa, my heart has been for the children...the people outside the gate (I first wrote about them in this blog Children Outside The Gate )

But here is a quote from that blog that seems to capture what was in my heart, "These are the children outside the gate...children, who unlike the children inside the gate of the orphanage, had no guarantee of safety...of a food...of love...of the most basic necessities of life...things that no child should ever wonder if they'll have enough of... These children burdened my heart..."

Well, on this trip, I spent all of my time, "outside the gate."  Heart For Africa (HFA) has decided to partner with community churches to help them care for the orphans and widows in their communities, so I went for 3 days to a partner church and it was more than I ever dreamed!  To get to go every day and spend time with the same people...  It's amazing how tightly God can knit a bond in just 3 days!!

The church we went to was in a very rural community...  We drove about 1 hour and 45 minutes, one way, to reach it each day.  On the first day, the pastor told me that until the week before, when HFA's  first team had visited, white men had NEVER come to help them!  Is that not heart breaking?!  How that must break God's heart!!

So, on our second day in the community, one of the young women in our group, asked me if she could give a pair of shoes to a young girl who had come from school and didn't have any...  (A little background...  I was a team leader on this trip, so I was the 'go-between' for our team and the pastor of the church...  This will be important in a minute...)  So I asked permission to give the young girl shoes and Mrs. M., the pastor's wife, said it was fine.

So J., the young woman on our team, with the shoes, went to see if she would have some that would fit her...  She was concerned that she might not have any large enough...  But wouldn't you know, the largest size she had, fit her PERFECTLY!!  Now, I've been to Africa enough times to know that this is how God works...  But I hope, like that day, that I never lose the awe of His perfect provision!

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And I will certainly never forget the wonder on the young girl's face when she understood that the shoes were for her...

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But one of the highlights of the trip was the look on J's face (who brought the shoes) when she realized that the shoes fit perfectly (I'm sorry of I don't have a picture of that moment)...  Her eyes welled up and there was no doubt in my mind that she knew she was seeing the hand of God and His perfect provision!

A little later, J came to me again and asked to give a young boy a pair of shoes...  Without thinking, or asking permission, I just told her yes!  So she went to the van and pulled out, what she thought was her largest pair, and they weren't big enough.  So she reached back into the suitcase and pulled out a pair that she didn't know she had...  And yes, they were once again the perfect size!!

Well as I stood and watched, the pastor's wife and the head gogo (grandmother) came out and as they were watching this scene unfold, they started chattering back and forth to each other in SiSwati...  I thought for sure I had made a terrible mistake by not asking permission (they know the greatest needs of the children in their community) and I was holding my breath, waiting to apologize for overstepping my bounds...

But Mrs. M turned to me and said, "His mother is so poor...  She will be so happy that he has shoes.  You (meaning all of us) are doing a good thing here."  I just smiled and said, "No, Jesus is doing a good thing here!"

And that's what struck me that evening as I pondered the events of the day...

We get angry at God and ask "How could a good God allow children to suffer?  To be hungry?  Or thirsty?  Or without clothes?"  But here's the thing...  

God chose to use us to be His hands and feet...  And I can't even begin to tell you what a privilege and a blessing that is!  He doesn't need us but He chooses to use us!  The question is not, "Why would God allow them to suffer?"  The question is, "Why do we allow them to suffer?"

On that day, I watched God provide PERFECTLY through an obedient young woman!  God knew what size shoes those children needed and He was more than willing to give them...  But it took a willing vessel to deliver them, because that's how God chooses to work!

There is no doubt in my mind that someday we (the church) will be held accountable for "the least of these" who went hungry, thirsty and unclothed...  Will you reach out to someone in need and experience the wonder of God's perfect provision through you?  I can promise, there is NOTHING like it!!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Where To Begin?

I'm back from Swaziland, but for some reason I'm having a hard time knowing where to start to tell this story...  The beginning seems like a logical place, and yet I think I need to return to last year's trip...   Since I need a little time to think this one through, I'll start with 7 of my favorite photos and hopefully in a day or so, God will show me how to begin to tell the next chapter in my Africa story...

The first photo is a little boy at a location where we were handing out blankets and beanies...  He is such a beautiful child!  I didn't even remember taking the photo and it's probably my favorite!
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The next two pictures are of a child in the community where we spent 3 days...  Something about this child tugged at my heart, he wouldn't play with us or even smile when we showed him his picture on the camera (that always gets the kids to smile).  He just seemed to want to hide...

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I'll post more about this little boy in a few days...  His joy was so contagious!

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There was something about this gogo (grandmother) that grabbed me...  She looked so stern until she smiled...  When she smiled, you couldn't help but laugh and smile with her!

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She wouldn't smile for a picture, but she sure did laugh when you showed her a picture of herself, so I waited until another group member took her picture and did my best to grab those twinkling eyes and squinched up cheeks!

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This last picture tells such a story on it's own...  The gogos were all sitting on their mats, outside the worn church building.  Some were wrapped in blankets and others in shawls...  I glanced down and saw these worn feet that have probably walked a million miles, with no shoes, and was captured by the contrast of her feet with the beautiful fabric. 

These women, who give their lives to raise their grandchildren, because the children's parents have all died of AIDS, should all be clothed in the finest shoes and linen...  Some day they will be, with beautiful crowns on their heads and the whisper of their Heavenly Father ringing in their ears...  "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

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